One of the most important and well-known aspects of the law of driving under the influence (DUI) in Pennsylvania – and in all other states, for that matter – is that there is a presumption that a driver is too impaired to drive if they have a blood alcohol content (BAC) at or above the legal limit of 0.08%.
Less widely known is the fact that this piece of DUI law makes drunk driving a per se offense that does not require a culpable mental state in order for law enforcement to secure a conviction. Very few people understand why this is disturbing or just how unique this makes drunk driving charges.
Per Se Criminal Offenses
A per se criminal offense is a crime that can be committed without a culpable state of mind.
Nearly all crimes require the actor to behave with at least a minimal amount of awareness, like:
- Criminal negligence
Theft requires intentionally taking someone else's property. Reckless driving takes, obviously, conduct that is reckless.
A per se criminal offense, though, can be committed accidentally and even despite someone's best efforts.
Per se criminal offenses are rare: The only other major crime that is per se illegal in addition to drunk driving is an unfair trade practice that violates antitrust laws.
The Main Reason Why Per Se Crimes are a Problem
The main reason why per se crimes are disturbing is that they punish people regardless of whether they intended to break the law. They can even face penalties if they were unaware that they were breaking the law.
The big problem with this is that it leads to completely blameless people facing criminal sanctions for violating a per se law. While this is not much of a problem for minor infractions like parking tickets, which only carry a small fine for a violation, it gets progressively worse as the penalties increase. Putting people in jail for making a mistake can seem excessive.
Penalizing people even though they did not have a culpable state of mind has another disturbing consequence: One of the most important justifications for punishing people for breaking the law is to deter future criminal activity. However, this justification penalizing someone for breaking the law is nullified if they can break it without even knowing what they are doing.
This is why per se violations of the law are almost always reserved for traffic offenses, like parking tickets or speeding. DUI law, however, stretches the bounds of per se violations into serious misdemeanors and even felony-level offenses.
DUI Defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento Serves the Accused in Philadelphia
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who can legally represent people in Philadelphia who have been accused of drinking and driving. With his help, you can invoke your rights and fight against a charge that can put you in jail, force you to pay fines, and suspend your driver's license.
Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.